Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Tribute to the Godfather: The Swanees' Soul!

The Swanee Quintet - Try Me Father

The Swanee Quintet, anchored by the leads of Rev. Reuben Willingham and Johnny Jones, were one of Nashboro Records' most popular acts. James Brown was one of their biggest fans and he took them on tour with him in the '60s. When I did the "Sunday Gospel Time" post this week I was negligent in not noting today's selection. "Try Me Father" is often referred to merely as a gospel version of Brown's 1958 hit "Try Me," which is a pretty unfair description. Over a sterling arrangement, Johnny Jones rarely swoops into his more customary falsetto (in my opinion, there are a lot of places in the song where it almost sounds like Wilson Pickett is leading the song) but instead captures the intensity of the lyrics. In the Swanees' hands this is not just a doo-wop-styled ballad, but rather a serious soul meditation which, although somewhat an anomaly in their discography (their sound was usually much more down-home), is one of the strongest records they released during their prime. The flip of the 45 (which was released on the Nashboro subsidiary Crescent in 1966), "That's the Spirit," finds Rev. Willingham fronting the group in a rollicking gospel version of Brown's "Ain't That a Groove," which, although good, is certainly more deserving of the assessment usually given to "Try Me Father."

(POSTSCRIPT - The Swanees are still doing their thing, and they performed at JB's funeral in Augusta on December 30. The Electrophonic Brian Phillips attended the funeral, and in a guest turn at Brian Poust's Georgia Soul blog he delivers a fantastic report of the goings-on that is worth checking out.)

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